Like being struck by lighting or meeting your long-lost identical twin while at summer camp, most of us don't expect to ever experience severe constipation — let alone constipation so intense that it requires, um, hands-on attention. And that goes double for those of us with very chill-seeming bowels, ones that keep their cool in the face of both kale salads and chili-filled bread bowls. But this weekend, a perfect storm of factors taught me how quickly a perfectly-behaved digestive tract can go rogue.
After a very busy week in which I basically treated my body like a mass grave for coffee and Snickers, I got up to go one morning and found that I was ... stuck. Yes, a piece of dry, rock-hard poop had lodged itself right in my rectum, making pooping it out or going about with my normal day an impossibility. After an enema and a very awkward call with a friend who went to medical school, I learned that there was only way to deal a solid chunk of poop trapped in your rectum: someone was going to have to move it out of the way. And in the eternal words of Destiny's Child, I depend on me. So, with the help of a rubber glove, some lubricant, and a commitment to blocking out this memory as soon as I was finished, I removed my own poop, piece by dense, dry piece, until I was unblocked, as it were.
Though there are a few things I can recommend about the experience — for example, I now know that I am capable of literally anything, and could survive any number of apocalypse-type situations with great ease — I'd still like to help you avoid it. So please check out this list of eight things that can make you constipated ... a list I really wish I'd read a week ago.
1. Eating Bananas
What I Used To Think: Bananas are a fruit! Fruits have fiber! And since bananas are the easiest fruit to consume while commuting, working or having a really involved conversation about the ongoing cultural relevance of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I'm just gonna eat as many of them as possible and assume that it's all super healthy.
The Actual Facts: It's true, bananas are very healthy, and contain things like potassium, fiber, B6, and other stuff you'd be smart to stuff into your snack-hole. However, bananas can constipate some people — that's why they're a cornerstone of the BRAT diet, an eating plan that focuses on using bananas, rice, applesauce and toast to help people recover from diarrhea or other stomach ailments. I easily chowed down on a dozen bananas last week, which may not have plugged my tub on its own, but certainly didn't help.
2. Being A Woman
What I Used To Think: Surely a loving creator/reasonable universe would not see fit to force women to both continue the human race by squeezing stuff through our vaginas AND make us more likely to have problems pooping. I mean, even if there isn't a God, come on, what are the odds of us getting screwed over like that twice?
The Actual Facts: Not only do we make less than men for doing the same jobs, we also have to struggle more to poop out the same foods — because women get constipated more often than men. Some studies have shown that women are roughly twice as likely to experience constipation than their male peers, and that roughly two-thirds of women have reported periodic constipation.
Some of that may be due to hormones — progesterone, a hormone that rises during our menstrual cycles, can increase constipation, as can the positioning of our uterus over the course of the month. So yeah, there aren't many precautions you can take against this, besides being a little more aware of your body.
3. Not Drinking Enough Water
What I Used To Think: Needing to drink eight glasses of water a day is just an urban myth, like that hook-handed murder who kills horny teens, or the idea that people in their twenties used to be able to afford real estate. I'll just drink however much I drink, and I'll probably be fine. I mean, I haven't died yet, right?
The Actual Facts: Yes, eight glasses is an urban myth ... because you're actually supposed to drink nine glasses of liquid a day. Ahhhhh! Foiled again!
And if you're doing some extraordinarily dehydrating things — like, say, wandering around the streets in the hot weather, as I was for much of last week — it's helpful to drink more, like one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half extra cups of water for even short bouts of exercise.
4. Eating Too Much Sugar And Fat
What I Used To Think: Hey, the freedom to have Oreos for breakfast when you feel so moved is one of the only things that makes the headaches of being an adult worth it. Plus, I'm only gonna have a little, so it totally won't hurt.
The Actual Facts: Turns out that I, like many of us, am a pretty bad judge of how much sugar I am actually consuming in any given time period. And while there may not be a direct correlation between eating a high-sugar diet and having concrete-dense poops, there sure as hell is a correlation between eating a high-sugar diet and not eating enough fiber (because there are only so many hours in the day, and if you're using most of them to eat cookies, you're probably not also using them to eat broccoli).
5. Eating Too Much Dairy
What I Used To Think: Oh, come on, I thought yogurt was supposed to make me poop! Jamie Lee Curtis told me so. I thought we had a deal, Jamie! I THOUGHT WE HAD A DEAL!
The Actual Facts: Here's where this can get tricky — probiotics, a beneficial set of bacterias found in many yogurts, are good for our overall digestive health. A study at King's College in London found that when constipation sufferers were treated with probiotics, they typically had more bowel movements and softer, easier-to-pass stools.
However, much like with sugar, if you're eating so much dairy that you're crowding more fiber-filled foods out of your diet, you and your bunghole may be in great danger. Over the past few weeks, I had been chugging Greek yogurt so hard, you would have thought I was gunning for some kind of record (or being hazed by the world's dorkiest sorority). I figured it's good for me and easy to eat while I'm doing something else (just like those damnable bananas), so sometimes I'd eat up to two cups a day — not an inherently bad thing, but something that kept me from eating foods with more fiber. And more fiber could have saved me from the Poopageddon that was my eventual fate.
6. Consuming Too Much Caffeine
What I Used To Think: Yeah, coffee can dehydrate you, but you'd have to drink, what, nine cups for it to matter? Plus, coffee makes you poop, everyone knows that.
The Actual Facts: Yeah, since coffee is a stimulant, it can make you poop in the immediate future. But the caffeine that makes it a stimulant can also dehydrate you, and if you don't consume enough other liquids, all that coffee can eventually lead you down the road to weeping on the toilet while screaming at your boyfriend to go away. Some experts recommend that you drink an additional cup of water for every cup of coffee that you consume during the day, as dehydration is one of the leading causes of constipation.
7. Not Exercising Enough
What I Used To Think: Walking to the coffee shop for more coffee counts as adequate exercise.
The Actual Facts: While incidental exercise (like walking to and from the store) is better than nothing, aerobic exercise is better when it comes to shaking things loose down yonder, because it stimulates contractions in the intestinal muscles (this is responsible for the vexing yet common "gym fart" phenomenon). I walked a lot last week, but I also sat for extended periods of time, and never quite got around to doing anything aerobic — which may not be enough on its own to cause epic constipation, but probably didn't help.
8. Not Eating Enough Fiber
What I Used To Think: Ugh, don't talk to me about fiber intake — you're making me feel old. Stop bringing me face-to-face with the grim specter of my own mortality.
The Actual Facts: We may think of fiber as some older person issue that you'll deal with on the day your grandchildren graduate from space-college — but in reality, we all need fiber, even when we seem way too young/beautiful/popular on Instagram to think about this sort of thing.
So how much fiber should you actually be eating? According to a lot of dietary guidelines, most women should eat 25mg of fiber a day, which, if you're like most people, means literally nothing, and is about as effective as saying you should eat ";jsdfhjhj5purplehat milligrams of fiber" a day.
So what does 25mg of fiber actually look like, in practical terms? It's five servings of fruits and vegetables, or one to two servings of whole grains or beans. But when you're getting a lot of fiber, you also have to make sure you're consuming a ton of water — if not, the fiber will simply expand in your body, absorb liquids and ... yup, constipate you.
Can all of this keep you from ever living through a constipation nightmare like the one chronicled above? I can't guarantee it, but I hope so. It would bring me great joy to know that you learned from this and saved yourself, and that my suffering was not in vain (especially since I can pretty much only eat broccoli and bran right now, so this really will be the only joy I feel all day).